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Table 3: Fine Yet Affordable Dining in Nashville

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Once a week, my wife and I manage to go out for the evening — dinner, drinks, something like that. Couple time is at a premium with two-year-old twins. Last week, we decided to do dinner and a movie in Green Hills. Walking toward the theater, we noticed a valet outside of Table 3. We assumed that it had reopened after what my wife informed me had been a kitchen fire. She suggested we try it.

We were wrong; it had not reopened. As it turned out, we had walked into the pre-opening dry run by accident. We apologized and turned to leave, but were asked to stay if we would not mind eating dinner at the bar. Anyone who knows me will know that I do not mind eating dinner at the bar. (I should note here that the folks at Table 3 had no idea that I had this blog when they invited us to stay, nor did I mention it while we were there.)

This small act of generosity led to one of the more enjoyable meals that I have had since moving to Nashville, and certainly the best value. We opened with a St.Germain cocktail incorporating cranberry juice, which provided a nice flavor and improved the color presentation over, say, lemon juice. My wife had the Roasted Chicken and I had the Leg of Lamb. Both were well-prepared and flavorful, and paired with excellent sides of mashed and au gratin potatoes, respectively. It was a quality meal. It’s even more impressive when one sees the overall value Table 3 offers on its menu.

I was also impressed by Table 3’s wine list, both by the bottle and by the glass. It focuses on France, of course, and the DuPeuble 2009 Beaujolais was a wonderful light-bodied red that went perfectly with my wife’s chicken. I also enjoyed the Louis Changarnier 2009 Pinot Noir from the Languedoc. Even ordering by the glass, the bartender allowed us a small taste before committing to each wine, which was a nice touch.

My point? When Table 3 does reopen, give them a try. I can see myself becoming a regular, so maybe I will see you there.

Table 3 Restaurant
3821 Green Hills Village Drive
Nashville, Tennessee 37215
(615) 739-6900
Appx. $17.00 per entree.

MAFIAoZA’S: My First Quality NY Pizza In Nashville

Being new to Nashville from New England via DC, one of my biggest concerns moving here was that I would never have good pizza again. Nashville has your standard Pizza Hut and Papa John’s, and a couple of local chains like Michaelangelo’s that are good for impromptu delivery, but I mean high quality, thin crust, New York style pizza. I’m talking The Italian Store in Arlington, VA. I heard rumors of good places, but they were disappointing. That is, until I got a pie from MAFIAoZA’S.

When a family member recommended MAFIAoZA’s, I thought I was in for another disappointment. I saw the silly name trying to be hip and trendy, and then some unflattering online reviews. But after tasting the goods, I’m a believer. It’s possible that these reviewers went when the place was busy and the food quality suffered as a result. As I was leaving with my pizzas right after work, I noticed that the restaurant was already filling up, so maybe ordering early is key.

In any event, the pizza was great. It was not The Italian Store, and it would not be the best pizzeria in New York City, but it was by far the best pizza I have had so far in Nashville. The crust was think but not too crispy, the pizza was a bit oily, but not soggy, and the cheese blend was fantastic. The prices are reasonable for the quality, though the toppings might be just a bit pricey. I can’t vouch for the rest of the menu, but I  recommend the pizza.

MAFIAoZA’S
2400 12th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37204
(615)269-4646
Base Price for 18” Pie: $13.75

Acqua al 2: A Taste of Firenze at Eastern Market

I have written about my babymoon in Italy here, here, and here. But I have not written about our time in Florence, where one of my favorite dinner stops was Acqua al 2. A couple of years ago, Acqua al 2 opened its third restaurant (the other is in San Diego) right across the street from Eastern Market in Southeast Washington, DC. After several delays and false starts due to babysitting issues, my wife and I finally made it to AA2 a couple of weeks ago. I went with tempered expectations, skeptical as to whether the D.C. location could do justice to our experience in Florence. I am happy that I can now say that AA2’s slow, steady expansion is working and that District residents looking for a high-quality meal should be sure to make reservations soon.

Acqua al 2 D.C.

I confess that my first impression was not particularly favorable, as this is not the best place in D.C. to grab a pre-dinner cocktail. The bar area is quite small and fills up quickly at peak dinner hours. I also was not thrilled with the cocktail menu.  That said, we weren’t there for the cocktails, and the wine we had with dinner was solid. The Boscarelli 2007 Montepulciano DOCG had a warm smell of red fruit, blueberries, and red cherries with notes of raspberry, blueberry, and spice on the palate. This bright medium to full bodied wine could be paired with a wide variety of dishes, but I would recommend letting it decant for a while. What seemed like a one dimensional wine eventually opened up adding hints of dark chocolate/coffee, and eventually caramel. 3/4, Appx. $29 per bottle.

The Familiar Place Mat

What the bar lacked, the restaurant provided in its authentic Florentine feel. It felt like Acqua al 2 in Florence, from the neighboring wall painted to appear as a Florentine alley, to the illustrated place mats, to the painted plates adorning the walls. One immediately feels warm and welcome.

The View from the Table

But the food is the thing. Acqua al 2 specializes in its pasta courses and steaks. I figured that the steak would be pretty good — I mean, we can do steak in the States. My concern was the pasta, but I was wrong to worry. As in Florence, my wife and I ordered the pasta sampler, offering tastes of 5 of the menu‘s pastas at the chef’s discretion. The pastas were al dente; perfectly prepared. We were both very pleased.

Dessert

The steak was also very well cooked. As in Italy, the dishes were not overcomplicated. Everything was relatively simple, letting the flavors speak for themselves. The one concession that I saw to the American palate was in the dessert, where a more New York-style cheesecake was served as opposed to a more traditional Italian offering. I must confess, I was happy with that switch.

Plates — With an American Feel — Adorn the Walls

It was clear that the staff took a good deal of pride in carrying on the Acqua al 2 tradition. I was very impressed at the quality of the food and the presentation. I can’t say it was exactly like being in Florence, but it was a great reminder of a wonderful few days in one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world.


Primi Piatti appx. $14, Secondi Piatti appx. $27.

Acadiana: Fine Southern Cuisine in Downtown D.C.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine invited a group of us to a Washington, D.C. Restaurant Week dinner at Acadiana on New York Avenue. Having never been there, I asked around and was told to stop at the bar before dinner. My tipster told me that the bartenders at Acadiana make a great Sazerac. He was right, and my friend had made a fine selection for dinner.

Acadiana knew how to make me feel at home. The first thing I saw as I walked to the bar was the single television on the far wall tuned to the Washington Capitals game. This put me in a good mood even before the bartender served my Sazerac, with Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, a dash of Lucid Absinthe, Angostura and Peyschaud’s Bitters, and simple syrup. Obviously the absinthe is the dominant flavor in the drink, but it is not so overpowering as to destroy its complexity. Better yet, by the time I was halfway through it, the Caps were up 1-0.

Once my friends arrived I decided to switch gears and ordered a Category Five, Acadiana’s version of New Orleans’ Hurricane. Made with El Dorado Light Rum and Goslings Dark Rum, the Category Five was sweeter and, well, less thought-provoking. My first sip took me back to my two visits to Mardi Gras and lunch at Mother’s followed by walks up and down a crowded Bourbon Street and singing at Cats Meow.

Dinner was just as enjoyable. I started the evening with my first turtle soup experience, one that I would happily repeat. It was comfort food at its finest, salty and warm and a perfect appetizer for Acadiana’s perfectly prepared ribeye and truffled mashed potatoes. Oh, and the southern style biscuits didn’t hurt either. In fact, they were almost as good as my wife’s.

If there was one disappointment on the night it was the wine. After perusing Acadiana’s extensive wine list, I selected Domaine La Tour Vielle’s 2007 La Pinide, Collioure AC. Probably not the best choice I have ever made. It had a bright acidity and impressions of red fruit, but it was not particularly complicated and had no distinguishing or particularly enjoyable characteristics. If I had to describe it briefly, I might call it a generic red wine and give it a 1/2 on a scale of 5. That said, Acadiana’s ribeye can help any wine.

Overall Experience —
Average Entree Appx. $25

Acadiana
901 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-8848

Wait, What? Mac & Cheese on Pizza???

Why was I not informed of this wonderful contribution that Wisconsin has made to the world? How did I miss the memo? Who’s responsible? Oh, wait, and you are telling me I can get one in Falls Church, Va? I have lived here for years in ignorance of this? Oh, horror!

Still Looking for a Valentines Day Present?

Some Virginia wineries have a suggestion. Breaux Vineyards, by the way, is one of my favorite Virginia wineries.

Drink Green with Compostable Plastic

I try to consider the environment in my daily activities, including my enjoyment of fine wine, beer, and cocktails. Say you are having a party and don’t want the glasses piling up in your kitchen. You also don’t want to through away a ton of plastic cups. If you have access to a compost pile or a composter, then Eco-Products has your solution: compostable plastic cups made from corn.  Affordable and good for the planet. I like it.

First Rate Food at The Fourth Estate

It is one thing to decide to take one’s wife out to dinner at the last minute; it is another to find a good place on short notice. It had been a long week, so we wanted something simple and quiet with good food. Trolling the Open Table list, I saw a restaurant that I had not noticed before — The Fourth Estate at the National Press Club. It turned out to be exactly what we were looking for that night.

The Fourth Estate is located, not surprisingly, at The National Press Club, 14th & F, N.W. Its interim Executive Chef, Mauricio “Moe” Aguilera, has spent the past 14 years as its Executive Sous Chef. Before joining The Fourth Estate, Chef Aguilera worked at the Loews L’Enfant plaza hotel as chef de partite and participated in the culinary “L’Academie de Cuisine” with chef Françoise in 1989 and 1990.

4th Estate View

Our reservations were for 7pm and the place was surprisingly quiet. In fact, I was a bit worried at first given the lack of a crowd. I was distracted from my initial concerns, however, by the pictures of the members of the press and famous politicians lining the walls of the restaurant. There is a lot of history to view and to discuss over an opening glass of wine and a salad.

The wine, actually, turns out to be one of the nice features of The Fourth Estate. The restaurant has a lovely and diverse wine list, and a relatively high percentage of the wines are available by the glass. I recommend the Saint M Riesling from Pfalz as a lovely opener to accompany a beautifully plated Caesar salad.

If you are looking for a good, basic meal with a few nice touches thrown in as opposed to something more experimental, The Fourth Estate is for you. Be sure the check out the dinner menu, as it changes on a regular basis. I had the rockfish with dirty rice and my wife tried lamb chops with roasted potatoes. Although I eat seafood, I always order it with a bit of hesitancy, never sure if I am going to feel fulfilled by the experience. But the rockfish was lightly fried with perfect texture, and was flavorful enough to stand up to the glass of red Burgundy that accompanied it. The dirty rice was a perfect compliment. My wife’s lamb chops were covered with a wonderful combination of herbs and were prepared with a perfect contrast of texture between the crisp outside and the tender meat inside. It was an excellent meal.

Oh, by the way, The Fourth Estate is doing a 3-course prix fixe menu for $30 throughout the summer on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. You can go to their website for more info.

4 Stars
Appx. $25 per dinner entree

Sangam Restaurant: Indian Food Done Right

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you have probably figured out that I am basically a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy.  My food reviews have focused on American and Italian cuisines.  So, when you see me blog about something a little more . . . exotic . . . it’s probably a good idea to pay attention, right?  Well, read carefully, kids —

A couple of years back when I lived in Ballston just off of Route 66, I would occasionally get takeout from this Indian place on the corner named Sangam Restaurant.  I knew it was good, but I slipped out of the habit of eating there when I moved away from the area.  Well, I recently moved a little closer to my old stomping grounds and a few nights ago I found myself there again.  I had forgotten how good it was, but now I know how good it is.

Edward Dean opened Sangam Restaurant after retiring from his former professional life, which included 20 years as a Personnel Officer at the United States Embassy in New Delhi, India.  Mr. Dean had never owned a restaurant before, but he is evidently a fast learner.  Sangam has been the Grand Prize winner at the Taste of Arlington three years running.  Sangam has also earned praise from the Washington Post and DCFUD (see Nov. 24, 2006 entry).

The Sangam Team at the 2007 Taste of Arlington

Sangam’s dinner menu is extensive and the prices are reasonable.  The Post recommends skipping the appetizers and going right to the main courses and breads.  I have no reason to argue, since I did the same thing (though at some point I will have to try an appetizer or two).  From past experience, I can recommend the Chicken Tikka Masala, Garlic Chicken, Kashmiri Naan, and Garlic Naan.

Oh, and did I mention that they deliver?

Looking for lunch instead?  No problem, as Sangam has a daily lunch buffet to provide a brief escape from the office.  Sangam also has a banquet hall for private parties and offers catering for any occasion.

Mmmmmmm . . . tasty.

Did . . . did I mention that they DELIVER???

Sangam Restaurant is at 1211 N. Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia, about 6 blocks from the Ballston Metro.  You can call them at (703) 524-2728.


Appx. $16.00 per dinner entree.

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Rock Creek Mazza: It's Amazing What You Can Do Without Butter

I’ve have been trying to eat a bit healthier lately. I have to admit that it is not always fun, but it is certainly necessary. So Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I were intrigued when stumbled upon a name that we didn’t know, Rock Creek Mazza. Rock Creek calls itself “Mindful Dining for All Seasons.” Mindful is not an adjective you see every day in the restaurant world. They had our attention.

Rock Creek Mazza, which opened on July 25, 2007, is one of two Rock Creek Restaurant locations in the D.C. area. They are the creations of owners Judith Hammerschmidt and Tom S. Williams. Judith is an international lawyer and executive with a focus on nutrition. She envisioned an upscale restaurant that provided alternatives to high-fat, high-calorie meals. She convinced Tom, a consultant and venture capitalist, that the D.C. area was a great place to begin their experiment.

Rock Creek Mazza is conveniently located on the third floor of the Mazza Gallerie accross the street from the Friendship Heights Metro. (There is also validated parking under the Gallerie.) It is right next to the movie theater in case you need a meal before your film. Rock Creek Mazza is elegant and friendly, and it is certainly healthier than a big tub of popcorn.

Rock Creek Dining Room
It’s a Picnic Under a Tree . . . Sort Of

Executive Chef Ethan McKee is in charge of the health-conscious menu. Chef McKee graduated from L’Academie de Cuisinein Gaithersberg, MD in 1998. After a year with a local restaurant group, he left for Vail, Colorado to work as a line cook for Left Bank. Chef McKee returned to D.C. after two years and joined Chef Todd Gray at Equinox. He worked his way up from line cook to Chef de Cuisine, developing menu items and managing kitchen staff. After seven years at Equinox, Chef McKee accepted the challenge of healthy dining at Rock Creek Mazza.

When we sat down, the waiter informed us that all of the food was prepared with the health of the patrons in mind (no butter, for example), and that all of the portions were appropriately sized for calorie control. I was a bit concerned, being a junk food lover as well as someone who can stuff his face with the best of them. That said, the menu looked interesting and the wine list was well organized. I’ll try anything twice.

Our waiter was very helpful and ready with suggestions for wine pairings. Mrs. Wine with Dinner opted for the Northern Neck Nutternut Squash Soup w/Shaved Apple and the Roasted Cervena Venison with Hunter Sauce, while I selected the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi and the Muscovy Duck Breast with Cranberry Chutney. We took the house’s suggestions on all wines but the Australian sparkling shiraz that Mrs. Wine with Dinner had with her soup — we were both very curious about that one.

We were not disappointed with anything. A couple of bites into her soup and my wife came up with the title of this review, “It’s amazing what you can do without butter.” The soup was a lovely burnt orange color with a smooth texture and sweet flavor. The apple shavings with their tart acidity were a great compliment to the soup. The Paringa 2004 Individual Vineyard Sparkling Shiraz, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $11.99 per bottle, might have been a bit sweet for it, but it was still a pleasant match. It was dark and bubbly –maybe a touch cloying — but fun to drink. I envision enjoying it on its own while cooking as pretty much a perfect evening (hint to the Gourmet Girls).

I was also impressed with my Gnocchi. It was well prepared — firm with just a hint of crispness on the outside. The texture worked very well with the accompanying mushrooms (which is saying a lot as I am not a big fan of mushrooms) and caramelized onions, and some grated parmesan always makes the world seem a little brighter. If I had to come up with a criticism, I would have said that the ham, included to add a touch of saltiness, was maybe a bit too subtle in the mix. They paired well with Albert Seltz 2005 Alsace Riesling, 3 Stars3/4, appx. $11.98 per bottle, which had a touch of latex on the nose and was otherwise dominated by notes of stone fruits. Semi-sweet and a bit viscous, this is not a riesling for dry wine snobs.

Relatively healthy appetizers enjoyed, it was time to turn to the relatively healthy main courses. My fears of starving all evening subsided as our waiter approached with our plates. Apparently, low-calorie preparation methods allow for normal-sized portions. The duck and venison were both cooked very well. The duck in particular was complimented very well by spinach, rice, a red wine reduction, and, of course, the cranberry chutney. Though, I do have to admit, I would have loved a little butter on the side of mashed potatoes that we ordered. I guess you can only change the boy so much.

Our main dishes were made even more enjoyable by a couple of very nice pinot noirs. Mrs. Wine with Dinner enjoyed Stoller Vineyards2005 Dundee Vineyard JV Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley), 4 Stars1/4, appx. $27.99 per bottle. This was a nice, complex wine with notes of red fruit and pine the most apparent, but also a bit of dark fruit and possibly some red currant. It is not a heavy wine, but it is does have some oak influence and a bit of a creamy finish to accompany its moderate acidity. My duck went very well with a Tazmanian wine, Tamar Ridge’s 2007 Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir, 4 Stars, appx. $15.00 per bottle. This was a bit simpler than the Stoller, but still very enjoyable. It was young, light, and fresh, with raspberry, cherry, and watermelon rind notes and good acidity. Our waiter showed good knowledge of the wines by recommending the heavier pinot noir with the venison.

Rock Creek Bar
Comfy Bar Area Too

(One more note on the wines. We decided at the restaurant that we wanted to try different wines, so we did not look at the by-the-bottle list. Mistake. As I look on the website now, I see that Rock Creek Mazza offers Mt. Difficulty‘s 2006 “Roaring Meg” Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand. As loyal readers may recall, Mt. Difficulty had some of the best wines that we encountered on our New Zealand honeymoonlast year. We may have to return to Rock Creek to get a taste of the 2006 Pinot.)

One more tip — after a pretty healthy dinner, you are entitled to some dessert. Pastry Chef Roger Potter, another graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine who has worked at D.C. favorites Clyde’s of Gallery Place and 1789, helps you to control you caloric intake in two different ways. First, Rock Creek provides desserts made without sugar, heavy cream, or butter. Second, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with the Small Bites plate, in which you can sample 1-5 small portions of desserts that are made with butter. I recommend the Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch and the Cheesecake, though there are some other fascinating desserts on the menu. The Fonseca 20-year Tawny Port was also lovely.

If you are looking for a well-prepared, tasty, and healthy meal, Rock Creek Mazza is the place to go. I am sure I’ll be back, and ordering something to go with that Roaring Meg Pinot.

Appx. $24.00 per entree.
4 Stars

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